March 30, 2019
This issue's contents Current issue My Back Pages Search The Ethical Spectacle

Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace

Amazon in Queens

About a year ago, I became aware of the very useful concept of Wicked Problems, which are "difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize". Amazon in Queens was a Wicked Problem. It is a brutally arrogant monopoly; who would want that in the neighborhood? But it would also have brought some needed jobs. The best way I can reconcile the two shards of the problem: let's find a better solution to unemployment than a return to a feudal system of barons and serfs.

The Hermeneutics of A Wall

All life is a battle against entropy: we fight the Second Law and the odds by creating order. Walls don't do that: they merely try to hold out disorder. What is a black hole but a wall around a singularity? All walls therefore fail, some immediately, some in a few centuries. The Great Wall of China and Hadrian's Wall are not currently performing the tasks they were built for.

As I have said before, the only long term solution to mass migration would be to alleviate the conditions which cause it. Donald Trump by cutting off aid to countries which he perceives as "sending" caravans is, as he so often does, blindly aggravating the problem he is claiming to solve.

Heather Nauert's Nanny

During the Clinton administration, two excellent women candidates for Attorney General dropped out because both had employed undocumented immigrants as nannies. Last month, Heather Nauert bowed out of consideration for the UN ambassador position for similar reasons (her immigrant nanny was technically legal but not yet authorized to work). This is an unfair situation which evokes a couple of Wicked Problems, one which involves women alone being held responsible for nanny issues, and the other the anomaly of our society badly needing immigrant labor and demonizing it at the same time.

Two Chicagos

I hadn't realized that the "two Chicagos" meme was so huge; a Google search just turned up headlines in articles from 2015 through today. An August 2018 piece in the Sun Times says: "One Chicago enjoys our sports teams, the variety of restaurants, world-class museums, our great theaters and special events, such as last weekend’s Air and Water Show. The other Chicago is left behind and disconnected from our city’s success. This Chicago — primarily on the West and South sides — attends failing schools, sees 50 public schools closed (despite community opposition), witnesses the closing of much-needed mental health clinics and suffers through poverty and high unemployment." People from elsewhere are moving into Chicago #1, while residents of Chicago #2 are leaving for other parts of the country. Few if any are "moving on up" from city #2 to #1.

This did not happen by accident, or as an act of God, or as random weather. It cannot be blamed on the people that it is happening to--they are not themselves responsible for converting affordable into luxury housing, nor did they themselves create the mortgage backed securities that threw so many African American families out of the middle class. Two Chicagos, and New Yorks, and San Franciscos, happen by human agency, as a project of Late Capitalism, while Republicans speak of trickles down and try to persuade us that social safety nets infringe liberty, while neoliberal Democrats officially do not notice it is happening, or propose minor reformist measures to address it. America is hugely less equal in 2019 than it was fifty years ago; we knew then there was a lot of road to go, that equality in this country had a huge aspirational component; now we don't even aspire.

The Boeing Max crashes

Speaking of Late Capitalism, the FAA delegates to a manufacturer much of the process of approving its own new technology; to save costs further, pilots are not trained on the stall system, because the assumption is, you know, that software is perfect, handed down from Mt. Olympus, certainly not designed by flawed human beings (also saving money on test that way). The plane "thanks" its creator by forcing its nose down to come out of a stall that isn't happening, and hundreds of people die, whose gravestones might as well say, "I died for Boeing's profits".

This month's ethical spectacle... certainly Congressman Meadows bringing a black acquaintance to stand behind him during Michael Cohen's testimony about Trump's racism. Even when Michael Corleone brought Frankie Five Angel's brother Vincenzo in from Italy to show him off in the audience at a Senate hearing, Vincenzo got to sit.

Moslem congressfolk

Submitted for your consideration. America has Moslem citizens and they are starting to elect Moslem representatives. This is good. It is the way democracy is supposed to work. Nowhere in American law or in the constitution is a duty to like Israel. I don't like Israel much myself on an average day. Therefore vituperation against Moslem Congressfolk for disliking Israel is shameful and undemocratic.

The college entry scam

Speaking again as we were of Late Capitalism, the casual way in which wealthy parents, including prominent lawyers, hedge fund types and actors, failed to notice anything wrong in paying for people to take tests for their children and faking their backgrounds--Photoshopping a child's head onto an athlete's body sets a new high for audacity--is also a clear sign there are two Americas with two completely different moral schemes. I stand with the America that doesn't do that.


I had a sort of LSD flashback the other day to a movie I loved and saw over and over in 1970, Performance, directed by Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell and starring Mick Jagger, in which he says the memorable line, “The only performance that makes it, that makes it all the way is the one that achieves madness.” Speaking as we were as we were of Late Capitalism, I think we have achieved a political culture in which all that counts is the performance, completely unmoored from truth, efficacy, expertise or results. Donald Trump was simply the best performer in a large field of Republicans in 2016, and the danger is he out-acts and out-clowns all the rather earnest Democrats in 2020. The Democrat hasn't yet been identified who can clown, slander and complain better than Trump, nor would I really want someone who could out-Trump him to become President. Trump has weaponized his whining, snarling mediocrity, and as long as we have voters who love that and don't care about the rest, we have a Wicked Problem indeed.